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  • The Click
  • Ronald Frame (bio)

Just a click of the fingers.

She was incensed. Back in her room Lydia Ellison opened the wardrobe and fetched out the gin. The sound of the finger-click was still ringing in her ears. She poured a good triple measure into the tumbler and added tonic, which was getting flat, stirred with her index finger, and licked the finger as a taster. She, who had been so fastidious about manners when they were living out in the Indian tea hills.

Tough shit! That's what she'd heard one of the gardening girls saying to another, and then they'd turned and looked at her furtively, with cowed You-won't-tell-on-us-will-you? looks on their stupid faces. Well, no, not now. Not after what had just happened in the downstairs corridor, within a shout of the residents' lounge.

She gulped down the drink. More gin than tonic, just how it should be.

This stuff had seen her through many an afternoon. She was promiscuous: Gordon's, Beefeater, Canadian, whatever she could get cheapest in the Carnbeg off-license shops. It was her only indulgence nowadays. Not clothes, God knows, or magazines, or any of the other things she used to spend Nigel's money on. That had been her revenge. It was her getting back for those evenings when Nigel came home late from his "ministrations," as he called them. The click of the latch gate, and the prodigal returned, still wearing his clerical dog collar in the heat.

* * *

It had started out like any of those marriages he performed, with high hopes. Lydia was young, and pretty enough, and her being Scottish and the wife of a Church of England chaplain in India was always a conversation opener. Her fame as a country dancer went before, to wherever Nigel was posted next. Across that vast land she was known as a dancer of reels and strathspeys par excellence. So long as they could skip-step, she would tell people, they would be fine. On would go another gramophone record of [End Page 62] a fiddle-and-accordion band, and they were all off again, round the pinewood floor. Even Beethoven, she'd remind them, used the scotch snaps.

It's as real to her now, that experience, as the routines of the Sun Dial Eventide Home where she is living. She spends half her time in India still. The news on tv doesn't reach her, but in her mind she can recite the names of the socialites and country clubs she read about in the high-society magazines published in Delhi or Bombay or Calcutta. Meanwhile Nigel used to disappear behind his copy of the Times of India every morning, shamefaced. No bloody wonder.

* * *

She first met Nigel here in Carnbeg. He had been sent to cover for the Reverend Knott, at the little half-timbered Piscy church by the railway bridge. Her own mother had recently remarried, and Lydia Ellison was desperate to get away from the town. Nigel's parents invited her to holidays in Eastbourne and Norfolk, and seemed to think she was just the ticket for Nigel. Just what the doctor might have ordered.

When she married Nigel, the Ellisons bought them a house. But after two years Nigel suddenly decided he was called somewhere else—to India. There was a romantic element in both their natures—or was it, more simply, snobbishness?—and she was happy to go along with the plan.

* * *

In India they lived well, even better than on the Ellisons' charity in England. A chaplain didn't fit very straightforwardly into the pecking order, which was their saving.

She didn't even like the taste of gin until she was forty-five. A few drinks helped to pass the evening. For twenty-odd years she had ignored the fact she didn't believe what Nigel preached from the pulpit: if he had faith, that was enough. It was only when the ministrations began in earnest that God sought her out. She went to the church one evening in Seebopore to try—try—to pray for some enlightenment and heard Nigel...